For Geoff Gyles, celebrating Canada's 150th birthday is much more than a party. It's a mission.
The Canmore, Alta. resident is travelling across the country, stopping in each provincial and territorial capital along the way, to cut a $10,000 cheque in each city.
When he wraps up his travels mid-July, he'll have handed out $150,000 from his own pocket.
His goal? To raise awareness about child hunger and food scarcity in Canada, while injecting some much-needed cash into organizations that help feed some of Canada's most vulnerable citizens.
It's a self-funded project he's calling The Journey to End Hunger, and it's something the 60-year-old has dreamed of doing since he was a kid.
"I want to do something tangible – something real – to address this problem, and encourage others to do the same. That's why I'm going on this journey," he told HuffPost Canada.
Gyles set out earlier this month, visiting food banks, soup kitchens, and school breakfast programs in St. John's, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Victoria, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. At each stop, he's not only donated $10,000, but also taken time to tour facilities and learn more about what each organization is doing to help in their communities.
Geoff Gyles cuts a cheque at Winnipeg Harvest on June 5. (Courtesy: Journey to End Hunger)
Now, he's off to Ontario, where he plans to celebrate Canada Day in the nation's capital, before completing the second leg of his trip by visiting Quebec City, Fredericton, Charlottetown, Halifax and Iqaluit.
"Hunger is an issue in Canada, and it's been part of my whole career in agriculture and my whole business career," he explained, adding that his work as CEO with Enterra Food Corp. — a company that takes pre-consumer food waste, grows insects in the waste, and harvests the insects for protein for livestock feed — has given him a deep understanding of food security issues affecting Canadians.
Gyles said he started planning his drive across Canada to celebrate the sesquicentennial and "while I was doing that I was trying to make sure I did something good while I was out there travelling about."
He began looking into the issue of food security in Canada, and learned that each month over 850,000 Canadians turn to food banks for help — and more than one-third of those clients are children and youth.
According to Food Banks of Canada, an estimated 1.1 million children face food insecurity in communities across Canada each year.
"I looked at my own four grandchildren and I realized they'll probably never have to use a food bank or be in that situation. And they are so blessed. But not everyone in Canada is so blessed."
And while Gyles recognizes that not everyone has his deep pockets, or time to travel across the country handing out novelty-sized cheques, he emphasizes four things people can do to help in their communities:
- Donate food to a local organization
- Donate money
- Donate time ("Volunteering doesn't cost a thing and it's good for the soul," he urges)
- Contact a local MP or MLA and ask what you can do to help out
Gyles will wrap up his tour in Nunavut on July 10 — a place where, according to a 2014 report by the Canadian Council of Academies, a quarter of Inuit children are severely food insecure, and of those children, 60 per cent have gone a whole day without eating and 76 per cent are forced to skip meals.
When his journey is over, Gyles says he'll also auction off the vehicle he's been travelling in, and donate the proceeds to charity.
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